The Iranian military has 540,000 well trained and disciplined troops and that reassures Iraq as much as it annoys the rest of the Arabs in the region. The quality of this force is unique for the region and has been the Iranian edge for thousands of years. Since the 1980s Iranian power has been dissipated and degraded by the obsession of its clerical rulers with destroying Israel and the United States and becoming the leader of the Islamic world. This has become, as the old American saying goes, a “tar baby” (a doll made of tar that leaves an attacker stuck to it every time it is struck). The current mess began when Iran found its ally Syria under attack by Sunni rebels in 2011. Then in 2012 came an international embargo that cut oil exports in half. Iran poured manpower and cash into Syria during 2013 but that backfired when the most extreme Sunni rebels (the Iran based ISIL) became the most fashionable group for Sunnis to join and became powerful enough to take on all the other rebels as well as the Syrian government forces and the Iraqi government as well. Iran also saw the new pro-Iranian government of Egypt overthrown by a popular uprising. Now the pro-Iran Shia government of Iraq is on the ropes (largely because of reckless and incorrigible corruption) and Hamas is using Iranian supplied weapons in another self-destructive war with Israel. Meanwhile the Israeli economy grows and decades of anti-Israeli propaganda makes Iran look like deranged lunatics. It is not a good time to be running a religious dictatorship in Iran.
Israelis are being reminded of how eager Iran is to destroy them as Hamas fires some of its M-302 rockets deep into Israel. This comes as no surprise to Israelis. Back in March Israeli commandos boarded a cargo ship in the Red Sea, off the coast of Eritrea and found 40 M-302 long range (160 kilometer range) rockets. These were made in Syria, shipped to Iran where they were loaded onto this ship and hidden under a cargo of bagged cement. Israel believes (and later proved) that the missiles were headed for Sudan and from there were to be smuggled into Gaza. Then again, Iran has been supplying Sudan with weapons as well, although there has long been a secretive pipeline of Iranian weapons shipped to Sudan then smuggled via truck and tunnel to Gaza. Iran denied having anything to do with this ship despite the fact that Israel had the ship, the crew, the rockets and evidence that this cargo was loaded at an Iranian port. Israel revealed that its intelligence had noted the Syrian made rockets being flown to Iran, which was unusual. Israel traced the rockets being moved to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and loaded on the ship now in Israeli custody. That ship then went to an Iraqi port to load bags of cement that were used to hide the boxes with the rockets. The cargo ship carried a fake cargo manifest stating that no cargo had been loaded in Iran. This is not the first time Israel has caught an Iranian arms smuggling ship. Since 2002 this has happened five times. Iran insists that this is all a publicity stunt invented by Israel to embarrass Iran.
Since Sunni Islamic terrorists group ISIL took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul on June 9th 2014 Iran has abandoned the unwritten agreement it has had with the Shia dominated Iraqi government since 2008. Back in 2008 the Iraqi government used Iraqi soldiers and police to crush the Iran backed Mahdi Army militia, and several similar organizations. These were private armies run by Shia religious leaders, usually with considerable (cash, trainers, weapons) support from Iran. These groups wanted to establish a Shia religious dictatorship in Iraq similar to what had been running Iran (not very efficiently) since the late 1980s. The 2008 Iraqi crackdown indicated that the Iran backed militias were not strong enough to defend themselves, much less force the creation of a religious dictatorship. Iran had already been convinced that most Iraqi Shia did not want a religious dictatorship. The 2008 crackdown showed that it was prudent for Iran to back off and bide its time. Now the time has come. The Shia politicians running Iraq allowed their corrupt behavior to cloud their judgment and that led to the collapse of many army and police units in June. Meanwhile these same politicians had allowed the defeated Shia militias to continue existing, as long as the military side of these organizations was deemphasized. While this rule was generally observed, since 2008 many of these militiamen were sent to Iran for further military training. This was no secret to the Iraqi government but everyone knew that if you kept quiet about it the Iranians would not cause trouble. Iran also cooperated by pulling most of their Quds Force trainers and operatives (including those from Lebanese Hezbollah Unit 3800) out of Iraq after 2008. Many of those trainers and advisors are now back, particularly those from Unit 3800. These trainers and advisors make a big difference when you have a lot of eager and armed volunteers but not much combat training or experience. Quds and Hezbollah are quickly getting these militias back into shape for combat. Thousands of foreign Shia men are entering the country eager to volunteer to defend Shia holy places (most of which are in Iraq). The Iranians and American Special Forces are very good at quickly getting untrained and unarmed volunteers like this ready for combat. Iran has also admitted that it plans to use techniques it recently developed and perfected in Syria (to organize and use local militias) in Iraq and this seems to be already underway. Iraq may not be able to defend itself, but Iran certainly seems determined and able to do it for them.
As if Iran didn’t have enough problems overseas the situation at home is not much better. The population continues to smolder because of declining living standards, more frequent power outages, growing unemployment and increased enforcement of Islamic lifestyle rules. Currently the government is concentrating on keeping women from watching sporting events in public (this includes broadcasts of the World Cup). The government also has another major police campaign against illegal satellite dishes. Another problem that will not go away are critical and popular Iranian journalists spreading news about how screwed up the religious dictatorship is. Since 2009 the government has been going after troublesome local journalists in a big way. But these journalists, like many Iranians, are inventive, persistent and often fearless. So the government still arrests, prosecutes (for various forms of “treason”, “disloyalty” and “slandering the state”) and jails these people, men and women alike.
July 9, 2014: The negotiations with the West over the embargo and the Iranian nuclear program are stalemated, despite the fact that the deadline is July 20th. Iran made it clear that it wants to expand its uranium enrichment program, not reduce or eliminate it. The Iranian leader openly calls for having 190,000 centrifuges. Iran currently has 19,000, but only 9,000 are in use and the West wants this number reduced. Iran shows no sign of wanting to compromise on this issue. If there is no agreement with the West stronger sanctions are promised. Iran believes it can talk its way out of all this and based on past experience they may do just that.
Iran denied that it had supplied Iraq with warplanes and warned the Iraqi Kurds not to declare independence. The denials over the aircraft are in spite of clear evidence that serial numbers on three of the Su-25s that arrived in Iraq on July 1st are the same as three Su-25s that were sent to Iran by Saddam Hussein in 1991. Sources inside Iraq say that dozens of those 1991 aircraft have returned from Iran, along with Iranian pilots and maintenance personnel. All that remains unconfirmed and may be just wishful thinking by desperate Iraqis.
In the United States a federal court ruled that a $1.75 billion judgment against Iran for past terrorist acts (stretching back to 1983) against Americans can be collected and paid to the plaintiffs (victims or their survivors). The U.S. has seized Iranian assets outside Iran to use for paying the judgment. Iran says it is all illegal and has been saying that for over a decade as this case wound its way through the American judicial system.
French bank BNP Paribas has pled guilty in American courts for breaking American sanctions against Iran, Sudan Cuba from 2004 to 2012. BNP Paribas will pay a $9 billion fine and be banned from certain functions for a while. BNP Paribas is one of several international banks that the U.S. has successfully prosecuted recently for breaking the sanctions. Those banks also promise to sin no more, or be banned from working with U.S. banks and, in effect, losing access to their most profitable activities (international banking). This will slow down but not stop sanctioned nations from using the international banking system.
Despite all the official bad blood between Iran and the U.S. both countries are apparently in touch over Iraq and what both will to do prevent any more ISIL gains. Even Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni Arab oil states are hostile to ISIL, if only because ISIL has openly accused all those government as illegitimate and targets for ISIL attack. But because of centuries of official support for conservative Sunni sects ISIL goals still resonate with a lot of Sunni Islamic conservatives. Sunni Moslems created this monster and now they have to cooperate with kaffirs (non-Moslems) and heretics (Shia in Iran and Iraq) to deal with it. Exactly what everyone will do is still unclear, but that will change very soon.
July 8, 2014: In Gaza Hamas fired one of the M-302 rockets at Israel for the first time. This is the first time one of these has been fired at Israel since 2006, when Hezbollah fired 24 from Lebanon. Four of those actually hit residential areas, but some were seen to fall apart in flight. This indicated poor design or construction. The M-302 is unguided and its main asset is its long range (160 kilometers). This time around Israel has an anti-rocket system that fires interceptor rockets at any rockets headed for inhabited areas and this Iron Dome system has already shot down at least one M-302. Hamas is not believed to have many M-302s, perhaps a few dozen. That’s because it has to be broken into pieces to be smuggled in via the tunnels from Egypt to Gaza. The M-302 is large (over five meters/16 feet long) and heavy (1.2 tons with a 175 kg/386 pound warhead). The warhead is believed to be designed to do maximum damage to personnel (Israeli civilians). At least three M-302s were fired today and all missed.
July 6, 2014: Pakistan has agreed to resume barter trade with Iran. In part this is being done to help pay for electricity Pakistan imports from Iran. But it also provides Iran with more opportunities to get around the stricter trade embargo it has been under since 2012.
July 5, 2014: The government backed beleaguered and much criticized Iraqi prime minister Maliki. This is largely because Maliki has been reliably pro-Iran for a long time. Maliki has also been notoriously corrupt and tolerant of corruption among his subordinates and allies. This has crippled the Iraqi security forces and led to the current crises with ISIL overrunning western and northern Iraq. At the same time Iran made it clear it would support any other prime minister the newly elected Iraqi parliament chose. That parliament appears to be just as deadlocked as earlier ones, more concerned with their personal finances than the welfare of the country. Iran is using its influence to try and break this deadlock but the Iraqi politicians seem incapable to united action. Meanwhile the Iranians agree with Maliki on one thing; the Sunnis, especially the Islamic radical ones, cannot be trusted and ISIL must be crushed.
The government confirmed that an Iranian Air Force pilot had, as earlier reported, died as one of the Iranian volunteers who went to defend the Shia shrines north of Baghdad in the city of Samarra. Iran insists it will not send troops to Iraq unless the Iraqi government asks. The government has encouraged volunteers to go to Iraq to defend Shia holy places threatened by ISIL. These Sunni Islamic terrorists believe Shia are heretics and should be killed and that Shia shrines must be destroyed.
July 2, 2014: Iranian oil exports were down in June, after a slight spike in May. Iran has been hustling to find ways around the sanctions but this is proving difficult to do. Covertly moving oil out of the country is extremely difficult. Oil is bulky and requires large tankers to move in useful quantities. There is an increase in smuggling oil via truck to Iraq, Pakistan and other nations that border Iran. But this is small stuff and the U.S. manages to monitor most of it anyway.
July 1, 2014: Iran has flown three of their Su-25 ground attack into Iraq to join the five that arrived from Russia earlier. It appears that most of these eight aircraft are being flown by Iranian pilots and maintained by Iranian and Russian personnel. Iraq had asked for the return of any still operational Iraqi aircraft that Saddam sent to Iran in 1990 to avoid having them destroyed by American air raids. Over a hundred Iraq aircraft ended up in Iran back then and most have been scrapped. But some Su-25s are known to have survived and the three that recently arrived in Iraq appear to be former Iraqi Air Force planes.
June 30, 2014: The ISIL gains in Iraq means that the Assad government is no longer the main ISIL target in Syria. This also means that the Saudis and Iranians have to pause their growing Sunni-Shia feud because both countries have more to fear from ISIL Sunni Islamic terrorism than from each other. Western nations know they are already on the ISIL radar and are cracking down on ISIL fund raising and recruiting in the West. Where does this leave the Syrian rebellion? The secular rebel groups and acceptably moderate Islamic rebels already have a coalition of sorts although that currently includes unacceptably radical groups like al Nusra. In short, things do not look good at all for the rebels. They are screwed even with ISIL now distracted in Iraq. This is good news for Iran, which thought it had a sure victory in Syria until ISIL took Mosul on June 9th.
In Syria some of the Iraqi Shia Arabs who took the Iranian offer of regular pay, weapons and so on to go fight Assad forces in Syria are now leaving that job and returning to fight ISIL in Iraq. There are believed to be over 20,000 Iraqi Shia fighting for the Assads in Syria. They are paid and supported by Iran but with families and friends threatened by ISIL back in Iraq, which has persuaded many to go home to join (or rejoin) militias there. So far only about ten percent of the Iraqi Shia have left Syria, but a lot more may soon follow. While this weakens the Assad forces a bit, it does not do so as much as the fighting between ISIL and all the other rebels has damaged the rebel forces. The Assads are also losing some of their Hezbollah fighters as Hezbollah sees growing ISIL activity in Lebanon as a bigger threat.
June 28, 2014: Off Somalia Iranian warships serving with the international anti-piracy patrol came to the rescue of an Iranian tanker that was being stalked by eight speedboats full of pirates. The pirates were driven off. The pirates have not been able to take a large ship in nearly two years and are getting desperate. The Iranian warships there guard all merchant ships off Somalia, but will go out of their way for the few Iranian ships that come along. China does the same thing, as do several other countries.
June 27, 2014: A UN report agreed with recent accusations that Iran was violating arms trading sanctions and was trying to illegally export weapons to Sudan and Gaza. Part of the evidence examined was the ship Israeli commandos seized last March in the Red Sea. That ship was taken back to Israel and UN officials were allowed to inspect it and its contents as well as talk to the crew.
June 26, 2014: Iran has already sent hundreds of advisors and some senior members of the Quds Force (similar to the U.S. Special Forces, but which specializes in supporting Islamic terrorists not fighting them).
June 25, 2014: Iranian UAVs have been seen flying over Iraq apparently with the approval of the Iraqi government (and quiet assent of the Americans, who now have F-16s and UAVs over Iraq). Iran has long had UAVs, mostly older models based on Chinese and Russian designs. While not as capable as the latest Western models, the Iranian UAVs get the job done.
June 24, 2014: On the Iraqi border a patrol of border police were attacked by armed men from Iraq and three Iranians were killed. The attackers fled back into Iraq and were believed to be ISIL members.
June 22, 2014: The government has ordered thousands of additional troops and border police to the Iraqi border. Patrols are being increased and border posts are being reinforced with more personnel, weapons and fortifications (sandbags, trenches and the like).
June 21, 2014: The U.S. confirmed that its intelligence network had picked up evidence that Iran had sent special operations personnel to Iraq to help organize resistance to ISIL advances.
June 20, 2014: UN inspectors from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) agreed that Iran had eliminated all its stockpile of highly (to 20 percent) enriched uranium. IAEA believes Iran had 197 kg (431 pounds) of 20 percent enriched uranium last November but has now eliminated it by diluting with even lower percentage enriched uranium. To build a nuclear bomb you need 250 kg of 20 percent uranium. For weapons you need to increase the content of Uranium 235 in uranium ore to at least 54 percent. This is far above the 3.5-10 percent typically used in nuclear power plants. In its natural state Uranium ore is only about .7 percent U-235. Anything over 20 percent enriched can be used for a nuclear bomb although for best results you want it over 50 percent. The most effective and reliable nuclear weapons use 80 percent enriched uranium. The problem with Iran is not just how much highly enriched uranium it has but how much capacity it has to quickly enrich uranium to weapons grade levels of enrichment. In this respect Iran has, by its own admission, greatly increased its enrichment capability since 2013. Thus reducing its 20 percent enriched stocks to zero means little since these stocks can be rebuilt in a few months. Iran also, for the first time, admitted that it had items normally only used in nuclear weapons. These were high speed detonators. Iran insisted that these were being used to develop civilian applications. The IAEA inspectors were not convinced. Those issues aside the UN agrees that Iran is complying with the January 20 agreement regarding their nuclear program. This agreement lasts six months and during that time Iran will receive over $5 billion in frozen assets if they comply. If no long-term agreement is reached at the end of six months then the sanctions will get worse.
June 18, 2014: Iran called for men to volunteer to defend Shia holy places in southern Iraq (the “birthplace” of Shia Islam) and over 5,000 have responded so far. Without any publicity Iran has sent more of its Quds Force trainers, advisors and commandos and Revolutionary Guard soldiers to Iraq, where Quds has long maintained a network of informants, supporters and local militia leaders. Iraqi and Iranian officials are working out how much assistance Iran will provide to help deal with the resurgent Sunni Islamic terrorists. The main problem here is the corruption and mismanagement of the Iraqi government that the Iranians have warned the Iraqis about that for years. This is an old problem. There is also a lot of corruption in Iran, but it is much worse in Iraq and this condition has existed for thousands of years. It’s one reason why the Iranians have long been the dominant power in the region. The Iranians understand that if you don’t put some constraints on the corruption it will render the military, and much of the government, useless. The Arabs have a hard time changing their traditions. The Iraqi Sunnis were somewhat better at controlling the corruption but that was largely because they were a minority government ruling a Shia majority population and facing a powerful Iranian Shia state next door. That provided some incentive to shape up that the current Shia government of Iraq lacks.